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Syntax—The Traffic Rules of Language   171
expressions, with burial of dead metaphors, and with rules of word-
order to prevent ambiguity or loss of interest. Syntax, as writers on
"semantics" so often forget, is concerned with far more than the
problem of meaning The use of language is a social activity which
involves a hearer or reader as well as a speaker or writer So the art of
writing implies the power to grip the attention, and sustain the interest,
of the reader Prolixity, pomposity, and evasion of direct statement are
characteristics of writing most inimical to sustained interest, and any
one who is willing to take the trouble can learn to avoid bad writing in
this sense Brilliant writing may be a gift, but the power to write simple,
lucid, and compelling English lies within the power of any intelligent
person who has grown up to speak it
One important thing to know about the art of writing is that effective
and lucid writing is hatd work A fust draft is never perfect, and a good
writer is essentially a good self-editor. Indiscriminate exercises in
precis are far less helpful than the deliberate application of rules based
on the recognition of standard forms of prolixity to which even the
best authors are prone If we apply a few fixed rules we can generally
reduce a prose paragraph taken at random from any English classic
by thirty or forty per cent without departing a hair's breadth from
the meaning. The important ones are * (a) condensation of participial
expressions; (6) elimination of impersonal formulae; (c) translation of
the roundabout passive into direct or active form, (d) cutting out
circumlocutions for which a single particle suffices; (e) rejection of the%
unless absolutely necessary.
One useful recipe for concise writing is to give every participle the once-
over in a first draft The sun having arisen, then invites the shorter sub-
stitute, after sunrise If we are on the look-out for the passive fprm of
statement as another incitement to boredom, we shall strike out the
expression it will be seen from the foregoing figures, and substitute the
snappier., more arresting active equivalent, the foregoing figures show you
The last example suggests another general recipe indicated m the last
paragraph. The remoteness of the college cloister has cumbered the
Enghsh language with a litter of impersonal constructions which defeat
the essentially social character of communication m writing by creating
the impression that a statement is for the benefit of the author and the
Deity alone Thus the intrusive it of the subject-predicate fetish is
another danger-signal in a first draft It would thus seem that, or it would
thus appear that, for seemingly or apparently, which do the same job when
really necessary," are representative exhibits for the prosecution. They
should go to the same limbo as it is said that (some people soy), it is true
that (admittedly)) the completely redundant it is this That, and the analo-